EDITORIAL: Why delay resolving the Zamboanga crisis?

Why would Secretary Roxas leave hostages vulnerable overnight in a volatile area? What if gunfire begins again?

ZAMBOANGA STAND-OFF. Two cops manning a machine gun stand guard along the boulevard in Zamboanga City as the stand-off between government forces and MNLF rebels continues. TedAjibe/AFP photo

It’s shameful that MNLF rebels and their hostages must wait overnight after they literally waved the white flag and surrendered to members of the Philippine National Police, the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) and the Philippine Center for Transnational Crime (PCTC).  

After confirming with barangay and police sources on the ground, Rappler broke the story of the surrender at about 9:30 pm Thursday night. At this time the regional police director and his superior, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas who was in Zamboanga, had not yet been informed. 

READ: About 80 rebels surrender in Zambo

When other journalists who wanted to confirm the surrender and the release of hostages asked him about it, Secretary Roxas denied it took place.

We thought it would be a short while before local and national officials would rush to Barangay Sta Barbara to comfort the hostages, return them to their families, welcome the rebels who surrendered and decide their fate.

To our horror, we watched and waited while Secretary Roxas held meetings with regional and city officials (including the PNP and AFP), reportedly upset that he had not been informed, and that our sources allowed us to break the story. The PAOCC and PCTC report to Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa in Manila.

The police forces in Barangay Sta Barbara braved the gunfire, accepted the white flag, helped negotiate demands, and relayed them to their superiors in Manila. The rebels wanted to talk to the media and surrender publicly.  

The reporter who was asked to meet with them was unfortunately brought by the local police, not to the rebels and the hostages, but to a conference room with officials who met for hours before deciding to IGNORE the surrender and the hostages until Friday morning.

It is a decision that is difficult to understand: Why would Secretary Roxas leave them vulnerable overnight in a volatile area? What if gunfire begins again? What if the rebels, losing trust in the police, decide to change their minds and attack again?

What exactly is being discussed? Can politics and hurt egos really delay the end of a days-long hostage standoff? Do humanitarian concerns not overrule petty politics?

It’s a long night, and we fervently hope the guns stay silent. – Rappler.com

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